Sees the Light
, the second album from this side project of Vivian Girls' Katy Goodman, is a surprisingly difficult album to review. Pleasant enough, and skillful, but all too familiar, it makes it easy both to underrate and overrate Goodman's talent. At times, it sounds like paint-by-numbers mediocrity fronting as something special — as though no one had ever heard Blondie. But then comes a little sideways melody that is actually subtle and great. Hardly Art calls La Sera's 2011 debut "masterful" and probably hopes that Sees the Light
will throw their contender into the fashionable, professional, indie girl-group revival ring with the likes of Dum Dum Girls and Best Coast. Although La Sera's debut was not masterful, it was a better record than Sees the Light
. Whereas this go-round is fuller-sounding and more varied, the debut's wispiness — intuitive and off-kilter — was less calculated, and worked to that album's advantage. But when Kickball Katy guesses, she sometimes guesses right. Sees the Light
's songs feel workshopped for production by outsiders: hey let's do a '70s AM radio number . . . how about a solo here? Calypso beat anyone? Production is not a bad thing, though — it's probably what led to a couple of rockers and sludgefests (like "How Far We've Come Now") to make it on to this otherwise subdued record. But production is also what took a simple Shirelles-style R&B number like "Love That's Gone" and spun it into a more interesting rootsy-pop number with maracas, thick drums, and a lush vintage vibe. Goodman might be just an average voice on the scene, but she surprises.